Tourism plan primary focus



Hope will establish a new Tourism Advisory Committee, while a proposed two per cent hotel tax remains up for debate.

An information meeting, held Friday by Advantage HOPE, brought the two topics to light as 15 people – eight from the hotel industry – attended the discussion. Both issues are part of the District of Hope’s five-year Tourism Plan, which was created in 2008.

“Tourism has been a steady, plodding horse … it doesn’t get the attention it deserves,” said Tyler Mattheis, executive director of Advantage HOPE, a recently formed economic development agency.

While the advisory committee was supposed to be the main topic of conversation, the hotel tax took up a majority of the debate.

The concept of a two per cent hotel room tax is not new. According to Mattheis, more than 50 communities in B.C., including Chilliwack, Harrison and Merritt, have already implemented the tax.

In order for the new fee to become a reality, 51 per cent of the hotels – totaling 51 per cent of rooms – have to vote in favour. There are approximately 20 hotels in Hope.

“Our goal is set on 12 hotels. We want about 60 per cent approval,” said Mattheis.

If approved, the hotel tax would be collected by individual operators and sent to the provincial government. The province returns the funds to the district, which would then give it to Advantage HOPE to be used solely to promote tourism in the area.

Mattheis estimates the tax could generate $60,000 a year and potentially be used to promote community branding, logo development, banners, signage and other tourism tools.

However, not every hotel is on board.

“Right now I’d say we are about 50-50,” he said.

The two per cent tax, in reality, becomes about a 2.25 per cent tax as the fee is applied to room rates and the HST charged.

“The tax gets taxed.”

One hotel owner who is against the proposal is George Rychter, owner of the Hope Travelodge. He believes it’s wrong to tax the public in order to help support his industry.

“We are big boys and girls. We should learn to operate our businesses on our own.”

Rychter doesn’t agree with the arguments that the tax will be good for the tourism business.

“Just because everybody else is doing it doesn’t mean we should. Where’s the advantage?”

He said if he put up a sign asking customers if they would pay an extra two per cent to help promote his business and his industry, “they would look at me like I was daft.”

If 51 per cent approval is reached and the other 49 per cent “get dragged along kicking and screaming, how is that building the community?”

While there is plenty of debate on the tax, Mattheis says it won’t go on forever. A final date will be set later this year and the tax will either be accepted or rejected.

“We will decide one way or the other. We don’t want to create ambiguity or uncertainty.”

As for the new Tourism Advisory Committee, Mattheis said it will consist of a maximum of nine members, and 40 per cent of the committee will be from the hotel industry.

Other  representatives will be from the Advantage HOPE, the arts council, the local chamber of commerce and other related sectors.

‘We want to grow the tourism Industry in Hope,” said Mattheis, adding the committee will meet four to six times a year.

Advantage HOPE is currently taking applications for board membership and will make a decision at its June 22 meeting.